Heat mapping in U.S. communities to determine heat inequities, cooling options

Kids cool off in the Rainbow Pool at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., during the summer of 2023, which was Earth's hottest on record. U.S. government agencies and scientists will join forces this summer to heat map the hottest neighborhoods in 14 U.S. communities to determine heat inequities. File photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

April 16 (UPI) -- This summer, the federal government and scientists will team up to map the hottest neighborhoods in 14 U.S. communities to determine heat inequities and provide cooling relief.

The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development will join forces with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for its eighth annual Urban Heat Island mapping campaign.

"This campaign is an important step to understand how extreme heat affects the health, safety and quality of life of our communities," said HUD Acting Secretary Adrianne Todman.

According to NOAA, summer 2023 was the hottest on record and extreme heat is the number one weather-related cause of death in the United States. The NOAA Urban Heat Island mapping campaign will target those areas with more pavement and fewer trees, which can raise temperatures by up to 20 degrees.

"As extreme heat affects people's health more and more across the United States and around the world, programs like NOAA's Urban Heat Island mapping campaign provide essential information to guide relief and risk mitigation efforts, and to make sure resources get to the neighborhoods at greatest risk," said HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Rachel Levine.

The fourteen cities or counties chosen for the 2024 program are: Bloomington, Ind.; Calexico, Calif.; Charlotte, N.C.; Flint, Mich.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Grand Junction, Colo.; Hennepin and Ramsey Counties in Minnesota; Laredo, Texas; Pierce County in Washington; Reno and Sparks, Nev.; Santa Fe, N.M.; and unincorporated Norcross in Georgia.

International campaigns to determine hot spots will take place in Mexicali, Mexico; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Nairobi, Kenya; and Salvador, Brazil.

One of the counties in this year's heat mapping campaign is Washington state's Pierce County, which faced an unprecedented heat wave in June 2021 as temperatures soared above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. There were 29 deaths in Pierce County and 159 deaths in Washington during the brief heat wave. The high temperatures also buckled roadways and damaged infrastructure.

Volunteer community scientists plan to use heat sensors mounted on their cars to traverse neighborhoods in the morning, afternoon and evening on one of the hottest days of this year. The sensors will record temperature and humidity to determine the hottest areas. NOAA administrator Richard Spinrad said the information will help communities and the government determine the best options to mitigate heat in the future.

"It's exciting to see how communities have used their urban heat maps to strategize placement of trees and shade structures, determine areas in need of more outreach and inform overall city resilience plans," Spinrad said.